Noon on July 1st approaches apace, and the Rangers find themselves basically assured of losing the services of Anton Stralman to unrestricted free agency. Not so long ago, the team effectively grabbed the Swedish defenseman off the scrap heap, having been unceremoniously dumped by Columbus, and failing to make New Jersey’s team after being invited to training camp. Fast forward to today, a purportedly rejected contract offer in the rearview, and Stralman finds himself in an enviable position as one of the premier defensemen in a weak free agent market.
Considering the Rangers’ tight cap situation, it seems highly likely Stralman will leave Manhattan in search of a significant raise and a potential top pair role. The question for the Rangers then becomes how to replace him. I’ve come up with some potential candidates.
Dan Boyle | RHD | 37 years old | 5’11”, 190lbs | 2013-14 Cap Hit: $6.66 million
2013-14 Stats: 12g, 24a, 36p | CF Rel%: -1.0% | ZS%: 52.1% | QoC TOI%: 28.3%
Never mind the deletion of Brad Richards from NYR’s cap ledger – Glen Sather is once again interested in conjuring up some magic from the 2004 Stanley Cup champs. San Jose decided to move in a different direction from the aging blueliner and PP specialist, informing him following the end of the Sharks’ season that he would not be retained. Following a worthy gamble by the Islanders to acquire Boyle’s rights, he is now officially on the market.
Darren Dreger reported this morning that Boyle’s top five includes NYR, as well as four other Eastern Conference teams, and that he seeks a two year contract. If the Rangers were to sign Boyle, there is little doubt he would replace Brad Richards as power play quarterback. Boyle posted 23 of his 36 points with the man advantage last season, and played 66% of SJ’s 5v4 minutes.
On the other hand, Boyle is about to turn 38 years old, and is clearly past his prime. There’s a definite risk in asking the veteran to assume top four responsibility, and even more risk in caving to his demands and offering him more than a one year contract. Sather must tread carefully, but the need for a PP specialist may be enough to force his hand and give Boyle what he wants.
Mark Fayne | RHD | 27 years old | 6’3″, 220lbs | 2013-14 Cap Hit: $1.3 million
2013-14 Stats: 4g, 7a, 11p | CF Rel%: +1.5% | ZS%: 47.3% | QoC TOI%: 28.9%
Fayne resembles Stralman in a lot of ways. He’s not an offensive force, but he helps drive possession, he’s a righty, and he’s still relatively young. He should also be a lot cheaper than Boyle or Stralman (we hope; damn you Nikita Nikitin!). But there are still some questions that need to be asked about whether he’s a worthy target.
The Devils are, for lack of a better word, a really odd team. Whatever their system does, it inflates possession metrics like crazy. Fayne is coming from the lowest event team in the league, and one that is extremely successful at suppressing shots. Is that due to his ability? Or is it simply being part of an extremely good pairing with Andy Greene? Second among them is the lack of pure offensive punch. Fayne didn’t see any time on the power play, and for good reason – he simply doesn’t have much in the way of a shot. The Rangers may find that Fayne’s skillset is too similar to Stralman’s in that regard.
Fayne could probably replace Stralman’s minutes, and do so relatively well. However, the Rangers may find his price tag to be too high, considering how tight their cap is.
Tom Gilbert | RHD | 30 years old | 6’3″, 206lbs | 2013-14 Cap Hit: $0.9 million
2013-14 Stats: 3g, 25a, 28p | CF Rel%: +2.0% | ZS%: 48.0% | QoC TOI%: 28.8%
Gilbert, in my opinion, is a tremendously underrated player. After being bought out by Minnesota, Gilbert signed a bargain deal in Florida and reemerged as a bonafide top-four defenseman – even a potential top pair option. Sure, playing the vast majority of his minutes with Brian Campbell probably helped, but it makes you wonder why 28 other teams didn’t take a flier on him or offer him more than a one year deal.
This works to the Rangers’ benefit. Gilbert may be on the wrong side of thirty, but he’s a very good replacement for Stralman. He faced very similar competition on a weak team and excelled. He produced 20 of his 28 points at even strength, which is always desirable from a defenseman. Florida also gave him a fair amount of power play time, which should entice the Rangers and their perennial need for a right-handed point shot. Because of his age and relative standing across the league, he likely won’t attract the same attention as some of the other names on this list.
Assuming Stralman decides to take his talents elsewhere, I would advocate that the Rangers sign Tom Gilbert to a medium term contract for less than $4 million per year. Not only would it lessen the blow of losing a player who came into his prime as a Ranger, but it may very well end up being an upgrade on the offensive side of the puck.
This is my first post at SBR, and I’m happy to join Bill and Ross as a contributor to the site. Follow me on Twitter @hollenbeezy, and drop me a line if you’re so inclined.